Billionaires’ $20bn battle over new Manila airports heats up

Local tycoons go head to head as San Miguel chief weighs in with rival offer to build a six-runway airport for the capital, challenging a bid from Belle Corp head.

Passengers enter the Philippine Airlines passenger terminal at Manila airport. Two local billionaires have offered to build a new hub for the capital. AFP Jay Directo / AFP
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The battle of Philippine tycoons to build a new airport to serve the nation’s capital is intensifying as San Miguel proposed a 700 billion-peso (Dh51.4bn) facility, rivalling an offer from a group led by the billionaire Henry Sy.

The San Miguel conglomerate has submitted a plan to the department of transportation with a provision for up to six runways in a 2,500-hectare property in Bulacan province, the San Miguel president Ramon Ang said. It will be built without any guarantee or a subsidy from the government, he said.

“We will finance everything, build everything by ourselves and take the risk,” Mr Ang said. The government could sell the 600-hectare property where the current Manila airport complex is located for US$20bn and have the area converted into a new business district, he said.

The Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, who has vowed to boost infrastructure spending to a record, is also counting on private investors to upgrade facilities as Manila struggles to cope with rising flight traffic and road congestion. All-Asia Resources & Reclamation, a venture of Mr Sy’s Belle Corp and Solar Group, in October said it proposed to spend $20bn to build an airport and seaport near a naval and air base at Sangley Point, south of Manila.

The airport in Sangley could be up and running in four to five years’ time, All-Asia Resources said on Thursday.

Air passengers passing through Manila will probably more than double to 140 million by 2035 from about 60 million in 2014, according to the International Air Transport Association. The present airport, with four terminals, is already handling traffic in excess of its capacity of 31 million fliers a year, according to IATA.

A bigger airport will help the nation’s travel and tourism industry, which accounted for 6.1 per cent of the economy in 2016, up from 4.2 per cent the previous year, according to data from the World Travel & Tourism Council.

The government also plans to double the capacity of an airport at a former US military base north of Manila.

San Miguel, the Philippines’ largest company, plans to initially build four runways with a length of 3.5 kilometres and width of 600 metres that can serve 100 million passengers annually. Eventually, the project can be expanded to 6 runways and service 150 million passengers, according to the proposal.

The airport proposal in Bulacan, which the transport undersecretary Roberto Lim said is being reviewed, will also link with San Miguel’s elevated rail project and will complement the airport in the former Clark military airbase. All-Asia said the country should have two international airports, the one in Sangley and the facility in Clark.

This is the second airport offer from San Miguel, which submitted a $10bn plan to build an airport off Manila Bay in 2014.

* Bloomberg